Saturday, 11 December 2010

Not Ashamed ...

"The Gospel has been under attack.  The Church has been under attack.  Christianity in our country has been under attack for decades."
Thus says the opening speaker in the promo video for the 'Not Ashamed'  Campaign which former Archbishop George Carey launched recently.
It has taken me a little while to get my head around this one.  I have been in something of a dilemma about the campaign, and unsure as to how to respond to it.
On the one hand, I am not ashamed of the Gospel, or my Christian faith.  I am certainly not ashamed of Jesus Christ my Saviour and Lord (although I often find myself being ashamed of His Church of which I am a part).  So from that point of view I want to join the campaign and state clearly my allegiance to Christ.
But on the other hand, I do not recognise the portrayal of a Church and faith under systematic attack for decades.
Sure, I have sometimes been ridiculed for my faith and know how to stand up for what I believe.  This was especially true back in my school days when my fervent teenage faith was a cause for concern in staff meetings, as well as attracting the attention of less caring class-mates.  But I wouldn't call that an attack on Christianity - merely the standard rigours of a all boy's school.
I didn't experience any such attack when I have worked with Local Authority Youth Teams during my training for ordination 20 years ago.  I have never felt under attack as an Anglican Priest, working in some of the most politically correct of London Boroughs.  I have not experienced attack when working with the Metropolitan Police in Community Groups where I always found an open ear when we were seeking to rehabilitate offenders who had come to Christian faith and commitment.
Indeed I certainly did not experience any attack on the Church or Gospel 10 years ago, when I served on the Government's Community Forum for Neighbourhood Renewal, along with a fellow Baptist Minister, and several URC Community Workers.  We were appointed among 20 others from over 600 applicants to advise the then Labour Deputy Prime Minister on urban regeneration.
I do not feel under attack or marginalised when I lead worship and Communion Services today for almost 500 school pupils at a time - by far my biggest regular congregation - or take weekly Christian Assemblies at non-church,  local authority schools.  Nor do I feel under attack when I am granted permission by ward staff  in hospital, to visit a patient outside visiting hours, despite the fact that I will offer to pray with that patient before I leave.
So I am puzzled when the basis of this campaign seems to be that the Gospel is under attack. 
It seems to me that the only times when the Church comes under attack are when we refuse to engage in equality legislation enabling us to claim exemptions and continue to discriminate against women and homosexuals - or when we try to claim a continuing right to unelected representation in the House of Lords in spite of our consistent attempts to sidestep the law on the basis of the Christian faith, and in opposition to public opinion.
If there is any sense of the Gospel being under attack in Britain today it is because we have presented a distorted gospel, more concerned with our own prejudices and self-righteous desire for power than with serving our neighbours in the love of God.
So on balance, I will not be joining the campaign, but I will continue to be completely unashamed of my faith in Jesus Christ, and continue to pray for a Church which will proclaim that faith without prejudice or discrimination.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

I'm dreaming of a white (black, gay, straight, gypsy, immigrant, rich, poor) Christmas ...

As we approach Christmas, our thoughts naturally turn to the ones we love.  Family, friends, & neighbours all feature in our minds as we write our Christmas cards, buy gifts and wrap presents.
But there is so much more to the Christmas story.
There is politics, military occupation, rough-sleeping shepherds, migrant foreigners, and in the end, a family of refugees forced to become asylum seekers.  Not quite the snowy scene of a Christmas card.
And there is plenty of prejudice, injustice, abuse of power, and vulnerability to go around.
Yet Christ came to challenge all these things.  In his birth, he challenges all our pre-conceptions about who is, and is not important in God's eyes.  In those who responded to the call to worship the baby , God challenges our attitudes to wanderers, foreigners and those of other faiths.  In the actions of the powerful, God shows us the futility of earthly power and authority.
In Christ's birth, he challenges us to a new way of looking at the world where everyone is valued, and all have a part in God's plan, irrespective of the prejudices of others.
So who will we have in mind as we hear the Christmas story this year?   People  like us, or people very different to us?  Whoever they may be.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

An Antidote to the Covenant



Cartoon by Dave Walker  http://www.cartoonchurch.com/
 
Over the last few weeks as controversy around the Anglican Covenant has intensified, a story has come to mind that I heard as a young teenager. 
It was told by a young Argentinean preacher called Jaun Carlos Ortiz, and it made a deep impression on me when I was a young Christian.  His book 'Disciple' made a deep impression on many Christians in the late 1970's and I still have a copy on my bookshelf.   So I clearly remember going to hear him preach on a UK tour.
The story relates to what happened whenever he used to come back from time away from home.  On his return, he used to be greeted by his children with their tennis rackets, asking him to play tennis with them.  "We have been waiting for you - we can't play tennis when you are away" they would complain.
"But why don't you play tennis with each other?" he would ask, but they both came up with excuses.  "She's hopeless - she always misses" one would say.  "He hits the ball too hard" the other would complain.
So what did he do?
He played tennis with one, and then with the other - but he couldn't help wishing that they would find a way to play with one another.
The point of his story is that we are exactly the same with God and each other.   We fall out with each other as Christians and Churches so easily.  We won't play with each other, even though God wishes we would.  So He plays with each of us, but longs for us to play together.
As I pondered this modern parable, I wondered what had become of this young insightful preacher, so I 'Googled'  his name, and found that despite a number of personal challenges and tragedies, he is a senior Pastor and teacher at The Crystal Cathedral - one of California's evangelical mega-churches.
As I dug a little deeper, I found a chapter in one of his books which spoke to me so clearly about the mess we are getting ourselves into, as we try to define who is and who is not a proper Anglican.
The Book is "Living with Jesus Today" and Chapter 14 is called "We cannot choose our brothers" 
Here are some excerpts from it:
The problem really isn't the denomination itself.  We are fooling ourselves if we believe that. We are the problem! The denomination is just another excuse for our flesh to become enmeshed in division, which it likes to do....

Most denominations begin in the same way. In a church, one group of people barks at another group, dividing over a particular issue. The other group then barks back. It takes two to fight. So we bark at one another, and division follows...

Really, we shouldn't speak of the church as divided.  You can divide the number ten into ten ones, into two fives, or into five two's. You can divide a group of five into two groups (three and two) or into five ones. You also can divide two into two ones. But you cannot divide one. The church is one, and it cannot be divided. You can only break one.   When they amputate your leg, you don't say, "They divided my body." You say, "They cut off one of my legs." So, too, the church is not divided; it is broken in pieces...

Today we are not under Christ, but under other banners. So we have a broken church that is fractured into hundreds of denominations. But Jesus does not have many churches.  The church is the bride of Christ, and He is not a polygamist. He is going to marry just one church...


The church has a tendency to be a Christian club. A club is an institution in which all of the members agree to certain principles... 

When we gather together around principles or doctrines, that's a club. Anything that is centred in a set of rules or concepts is a club. But when we gather together around a living person whose name is Jesus, we are a church...


When Jesus comes to church, He does not find joy in our doctrinal divisions.   He commands us to repent of our hatred of one another.  And when He lives within us and we are led by His Spirit, we will accept each other as members of His body not because of doctrines, but simply because He has accepted us. We will be one church because we all share one common life—the life of Christ in us.



In the current climate of the Anglican Communion, Covenant and GAFCON, perhaps this is just the challenge we need.  There are probably many things he preaches which I would not agree with today (and vice versa) but that is exactly the point.  We are one church, no matter how much we try to divide ourselves against each other.  We are one church, with one faith, with one Lord, Jesus Christ.
If only we would play tennis with each other...

(You can read the whole Chapter at Called to Be Free)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Bible says No - Part 2 - Leviticus 18

The first rule of understanding the Bible is prayer.  The second is context.

There is the story of a person who prayed and picked verses in his Bible to read at random. 
  • The first verse said,  "And Judas went and hanged himself"
  • The second was more disturbing when he read "Go thou and do likewise"
  • The third verse nearly put him off reading the Bible forever when he read the words "What are you waiting for!"
He was reading Bible verses but not putting them in context and it could led to a very nasty conclusion!

If we want to find out what the Bible is saying  to us today, we have to read it in context.  There are actually 2 contexts we need to be aware of.  The first is an awareness of the people and cultures it was first written for.  Secondly, we need to see the verses we are reading in the context of the surrounding passage and indeed Scripture as a whole.

This is especially true of controversial issues such as the verses on homosexual sex.

The first prohibition is found in Leviticus 18:22.  Among a number of sexual no-no's, it says ...

22 ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.' (NIV)

This might seem clear enough,  but there are 2 issues which make it far from an 'open and shut case' The first comes as we look at what else is described as “detestable”  in Leviticus.

Leviticus 11 is a good example:
12Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you.
So apparently, prawns, shrimps and crab are detestable and although my wife may agree with that (she hates any shell fish!) that doesn't make it an eternal law.

There are also other things which are forbidden in Leviticus which, if they applied today,  would mean that many of us are living in sin   Eg. Leviticus 19:27 commands, "‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."   This is set alongside another command that prohibits eating steak cooked 'rare' (vs 26).  And yet these commands which are hard to get our heads around today, are alongside others which we would endorse wholeheartedly like "Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute"! (vs  29)

There is more to reading this part of the Bible than  simply extracting single verses, if we are to understand which rules apply today and which do not - and indeed what the rules do, and do not, prohibit.  They were written in a very different culture with its own taboos and concerns, and some of the commands in Leviticus reflect that culture, while others reflect the eternal will of God.  The challenge is to discern which are which.

The second issue with Leviticus 18 is the word which the NIV Bible translates as 'detestable'.  We sometimes forget that the Bible was not written in English!  What we have is a translation, and the constant challenge in any work of translation is discerning how to best convey the fullest meaning of the words we translate.  This is not an easy task - as evidenced by  the large number of translations out there.

The Hebrew word in this case is   תעב 'to-ebah'.  The King James version translates it as 'abomination'.   In the list of sexual no-no's in Leviticus 18, 'lying with a man as with a woman' is singled out in the list as 'to-ebah'.   So what does this word mean?  And what picture would it have evoked in the Hebrews who first heard it?

The word 'to-ebah' occurs many times in the Old Testament, and is primarily associated with the worship of idols.

In Deuteronomy, there are 15 verses which use the word, and 12 of them either refer to idolatry.
One example is Dt 27:15
5Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place.
Another,  (Dt 23:18) links 'to-ebah' to money which came from  male temple prostitutes.

In the books of Kings and Chronicles, 'to-ebah' is used 10  times, almost all of them referring specifically to the worship of idols and again there is a link in 1 Kings 14:24 with male temple prostitutes.
23For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. 24there were also male temple prostitutes in the land. They committed all the abominations of the nations that the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.       

So there would have been a clear and specific link in the minds of the people of Israel between 'to-ebah' and idolatry, and between homosexual sex and religious male prostitution.

The link between 'to-ebah' and idolatry is also present in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  The only book of the Bible where this does not apply is the book of Proverbs which uses the word 'to-ebah' in a bewildering variety of contexts.   But then the book of Proverbs is poetry, written in a different style and with different aims.  The Old Testament scholar, RN Whybray, in his commentary on Proverbs says "It cannot be too strongly emphasised  that Proverbs is an entirely different kind of book from the other OT books; indeed it is unique.  It served an entirely different purpose ...   Proverbs has one unifying characteristic: it is written entirely in poetry  ... Suffice to say that in general poetry makes up in allusiveness what it lacks in precision."  

If we set aside this poetic use of the word in Proverbs, we find that in up to 80% of the times 'to-ebah' is used, it refers to false worship or the worship of idols, and in some of those references there is a clear link made with male temple prostitution.

So why do we assume that it applies to  same-sex relationships?    Looking  at the evidence, it is much more likely  that when Leviticus condemns 'men lying with men as with a woman', it has homosexual temple prostitution to idols in mind, which is a world away from a self-giving loving committed relationship between 2 people of the same sex today.

The most frustrating thing about "Computer says No"  (the Little Britain comedy sketch which started this series)  is the fact that no explanation is given, no discussion takes place - there no analysis of why the answer is 'no'.  Both the Scriptures and LGBT people deserve so much more than that.

Next time - 1 Corinthians 6...

For the First Blog in this series - Bible says No - follow this link.
For the next Blog in the series - Bible says No - part 3 - follow this link

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Sad Loss for Humankind


Too often the T in LGBT is overlooked in the debate over sexuality.

But Transgendered men and women are just as real, just as human, and experience just as much prejudice (if not more) than lesbian, gay or bisexual people.

Today I heard of the funeral of a remarkable transgendered woman named Sonia Jardiniere.

Sonia was a leading human rights lawyer fighting (and often winning) for the rights of asylum seekers. She practised under her birth name - David Burgess, and must be one of the very few people who can claim to have successfully prosecuted a Government minister for contempt of court!

Sonia was also a Christian - an active member of St Martin in the Fields Church in Trafalgar Square, London, and a member of Changing Attitude & The Sibyls.

Tributes to her have been posted in the Guardian Newspaper, and on the LGBT Anglican Coalition website, where you can read more of her amazing story.

All I can say in response to them, is that if I could ever be just a fraction of the remarkable person that Sonia was, I would be overjoyed.

In the saddest irony, a transgendered asylum seeker has been charged with her murder.

But I am sure that her legacy will live on, just as she will live on with the God who made her and loves her.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

We pray for their return ...


So yesterday the Church Of England lost 5 Bishops as they make the journey to Rome over the issue of women Bishops...

Some may find it tempting to say "Good riddance" but that would graceless. Instead I would like to tell the story of an young Anglican Priest who left the Church of England back in 1963 to become a Roman Catholic .

He did it for theological reasons.

He was an Anglo-catholic, trained at St Stephen's House in Oxford, under Fr Arthur Couratin. And he, along with others, felt that the Church of England was in danger of betraying its Catholic heritage by moving towards unity with the Methodist Church. In doing so, any claim to Apostolic Succession would be broken and we would have priests & ministers who had not been properly ordained. In short, the Church of England would cease to be part of the' one holy catholic and apostolic church' of the creeds.

And so he left, with his wife and young baby, following the courage of their convictions.

They left their home for a room in a Roman Catholic house for defecting Anglican clergy. They received a warm and practical welcome in the Roman church, with the Converts Aid Society helping him to get a job and home to live in, and Roman Catholic priests helped them through this momentous time of change in their lives.

At that time, their Anglican baptism was not accepted in Rome, so they had to be conditionally baptised and confirmed again - and of course, as a married man, there was no possibility of being able to move to ordained ministry as a Roman Catholic priest.

So he became a teacher, initially in Roman Catholic schools, but then in a state school in Rochdale. When he got there however, he discovered something - that the Head and Deputy Head at this school were both dedicated Methodists and the Deputy was a Methodist lay preacher.

During his time there, he began to question his attitude towards Methodists and his reasons for leaving the Church of England. These Methodists were among the finest Christian he had ever met, and as a result he realised that he had been wrong. In that realisation, he felt God calling him back and he went to the Bishop who had sponsored him for ordination him to ask to be allowed back into Anglican ministry. Graciously, the Bishop welcomed him back, and there followed another 28 years of ordained ministry before retirement.

This story is not unique by any means, but it is special to me because that Anglican priest is my father, and I was the young baby in their arms as they left their Vicarage to 'go to Rome'.

Its point is to show that sometimes we can be wrong. Sometimes there are issues which seem so fundamental to our faith, that lead us to difficult decisions and drastic action. Yet in the fullness of time we realise they are mere distractions to the call to love God and our neighbour in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Paul knew this of course, after his momentous change of life and faith on the road to Damascus. In Philippians 3, he lists all the things that he thought were so important before his encounter with Christ - and then he says that now he counts them all as loss compared with the all surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. Not many of us will have a Damascus experience to redirect our lives, but we do meet Christ in other people every day and if we are open to see Christ in them, we too can find Christ calling us to new understanding of His work in the world.

Of course things are very different now. The issue of the day is Women Bishops, not Methodists. Anglican priests can go to Rome and be welcomed into ministry, even if they are married with a family. And now there is the promise of an Anglican Ordinariate within the Roman Catholic Church.

Now, with the resignation of five Bishops to join the new Ordinariate, there will be other clergy who are tempted to join them. My hope is that they will think twice before leaving the Church of England on such an issue - but my prayer is that even if they go, they will remain open to seeing Christ at work in the ministry of others, and through seeing Christ at work, they will one day feel the call to return.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

"Bible says No ..."


(If the link above doesn't work try this link.)
I have had the first negative comment on my Blog!
Anonymous said ....... "You are an Evangelical and you presumably know your Bible yet you say homosexuality is fine ? Accept the people, sins and all, but the practice is not OK and you should know it. Goodness, there are plenty of Biblical admonitions about it. I`m not even an Evangelical and it seems crystal clear to me."
I am actually amazed that it has taken so long. When we launched Accepting Evangelicals in 2004, we immediately had a flood of the most awful emails expressing the hope that we would die a slow painful death and burn in hell. So actually, this mildly negative comment is not only long overdue, but also extremely polite and reserved.
What has not moved on, however is the mistaken belief about what the Bible does and does not say on the subject of same sex relationships.
Far from there being 'plenty of Biblical admonitions' on the subject there are only a handful of verses which talk about homosexuality, and understanding exactly what they mean or refer to is by no means straightforward. Yet the perception remains in many people's minds that this is an open and shut case.
Even Theologians who are committed to a conservative line against same sex relationships, acknowledge that there is not much in the Bible to go on. One such theologian is R.Hays, is quoted in the Church of England's official document on the subject "Some issues in human sexuality" (2003). He talks about the "Slender evidence of the New Testament" in relation to homosexuality -and he is right. It is mentioned on only 3 occasions, and only one of these contains any attempt to portray a theological explanation for why such attraction might be wrong.
The Old Testament is no better. There are only 2 clear references, both in the same section of Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) and the second is merely a reiteration of the first for the purpose of setting down a penalty for the 'crime'. Other references in Deuteronomy are almost universally understood to be about temple prostitution whether heterosexual or (by inference) homosexual, so contribute nothing to the current debate on same-sex relationships.
Other passages - eg the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 - whilst having a sexual component to them, are not principally about homosexuality, but about rape, inhumanity, and breaking the laws of hospitality which were deeply ingrained in fabric and culture of the Middle East. Hence it was considered acceptable(even proper) for Lot to offer his daughters to be gang raped by the mob in order to protect his visitors!
On top of all this, Jesus appears to have been entirely silent on the issue, and if you are a lesbian, you can rejoice that there is even less to go on. Leviticus refers exclusively to men, and only one of the three references in the New Testament (Romans 1) includes sexual attraction between women.
So far from there being plenty of Biblical admonitions against homosexuality, the reality is that the Biblical evidence is both flimsy and fragmented. We need to delve deeper to see what exactly is being considered in those verses and to see to what extent it might apply today.
The problem is, just like the Little Britain sketch where the bank clerk says over and over again 'Computer says NO!' - there are many too many Christians who are content to roll out the same mantra time after time - 'Bible says No!' - without ever considering the evidence and what the Bible actually says.
That doesn't mean that what the Bible says is unimportant however. As an evangelical, I consider it vitally important to build my understanding of the Christian faith on the Bible.
So over the next few months, I will be using my blog to take a close look at what the Bible says on same sex relationships, and what that means today. I know, of course that I am not doing anything new here, as many have trod this road before me, but as long as there are people out there who think the same way as Mr/s Anonymous, I think it needs to be done. I just hope and pray that anyone in that position will be a little more responsive than the bank clerk in Little Britain.
To see Part 2 - follow this link

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Open Evangelical?


"There are plenty of evangelicals out there who have left the door so widely open that they are virtually indistinguishable from... Inclusive Church"

These words were written recently by Andrew Carey (son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury) who is a columnist in The Church of England Newspaper. Like many columnists, Andrew Carey is often outspoken and I often find myself at odds with his kind of right wing ecclesiastical conservativism.

The context was his musings about the new Church of England General Synod which has just been elected for the next 5 years. It will be more Evangelical and more Liberal, he said, but then implies that it can be hard to tell the difference these days!

Now I have nothing against Inclusive Church - I do support their aims, and have attended their Executive Committee meetings in the past - but I objected to the way he was trying to say that any Evangelical who embraces a more open and inclusive approach has lost everything distinctive about her/his understanding of the Christian faith.

So I fired off a letter to the editor, and this week they published it ...

Here is what I wrote...

Dear Sir

I was fascinated by Andrew Carey's description of the new Synod (15th October) and in particular, his perceived overlap between evangelicals and liberals.

While I am pleased to see that Andrew now recognises the growing number of open evangelicals, I feel that he is perpetuating a mistaken view which is a grave danger to the Evangelical movement . That mistake is to define evangelicals by what they are 'against' rather than what they are 'for'. Any movement which is simply defined by what it shuts out is destined to a slow and painful demise. To seek to define evangelicals in this way will do exactly the same, and the church would be the poorer for it.

As a evangelical, I am for the preaching of the Gospel, enabling people to have a personal faith in Jesus Christ, and encouraging people to read the Bible themselves as the inspired Word of God. I believe that is at the heart of being an evangelical, and is a healthy approach which is, life giving, inspirational and challenging.

In an age where secularism is growing, and more & more people regard the church as outdated or irrelevant, isn't it more important than ever to be defined by the positive things we stand for, rather than by the things we are against.

I hope that Andrew Carey is right when he predicts a more evangelical General Synod, and I hope it will be indeed be a more open kind of evangelicalism, not simply the sort that seeks to shut people out.

(Thank you CEN)

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The Confusing World of Christian Bumper Stickers

To someone from the UK the world of Bumper Stickers is an strange and alien place. We don't have them in the UK, except for the occasional window sticker or 'fish' sign.

So to come across a website selling Christian Bumper Stickers was a revelation, where I entered into a strange new world of the one-line sound bite for your car.

The only problem is, as far as I can see, far from offering a clear, humourous and thought provoking window on the Christian faith, it merely reveals just how divided we are.

So I have put together my list of "Top Ten Confusing Christian Bumper Stickers" where the profound is interweaved with the ridiculous, and the inspiring with "What the hec?!"

So here we go...

1. We start with something inspirational






2 & 3. But then we get political














4. The matter is finally settled ...








5 & 6. But for the sake of balance we have to include ...







7 & 8. Which of course, provokes the opposite reation ...















9. In the light of all this, it is perhaps not surprizing that some feel led to cry out the ultimate prayer ....







10. So thank God that someone has the good sense to lead us back to Scripture - with a little bit added to make sure we get the point.
What a wonderful faith!
All the above (and many more) are available in the UK from
(search for Christian Bumper Stickers!)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Crossing the Line

(If the embedded link above does not work follow this link to YouTube )

In Lesley's Blog a couple of weeks ago, she expressed exasperation people who talked about Mission - "I will roll my eyes if you say you are passionate about mission - what does that mean?"

As someone who is passionate about mission (whatever it is!) I felt a little stung by this constructive criticism, and have taken the challenge. I have been musing ever since as to how I would define mission in the Church.


This is, of course no mean feat! I remember back to the 1990's when a 'Decade of Evangelism' began in the Church of England. The diocese I was living in neatly side-stepped the challenge of having to actually 'do' any evangelism for the first 4 years of the decade by trying to find a definition of evangelism which most churches in the diocese could sign up to!

So if that is how difficult it is for a relatively straightforward word like evangelism, I must be completely mad to attempt to define 'mission'. Having thought about it over the last few weeks, however, I am now ready to put my definition out into the ether in the hope that it doesn't utterly crash and burn!

So, here goes ...

Mission is what happens
whenever our faith causes us
to cross a boundary.

Is that it, I hear echoing across the web? Surely it can't be that simple? So let me explain...

Crossing a boundary can be:

  • a physical boundary like a national border, as Missionaries have done for hundreds of years, but it can also be ...
  • an economic boundary like taking the time to talk with the homeless man in the street who you normally walk straight past
  • a social boundary like the one we cross when we talk about God to our family or friends
  • a personal boundary like the one we cross when we spend time alongside a person we don't understand
  • even perhaps a faith boundary when we choose act beyond our comfort zones, trusting that God will give us what we need to be there.
I believe that when we do such things because of our Christian Faith, we are engaged in mission - God's Mission.
  • It might be giving money to a charity to help others beyond our reach; it might be that simple act of kindness to someone very different to us.
  • It may involve words; it may not; it may involve more listening that speaking; it may mean setting aside our ideas to allow others to give us theirs.
  • It may involve us 'giving a reason for the hope we have within us' (1 Peter 3:15); it may be talking about the love of Jesus; it may mean us allowing someone else to show us God's love.

But if our faith draws us into that place, that action, or that situation where we have crossed a boundary, we have engaged in mission, and mission changes the world. It breaks down the barriers which separate us from our fellow human beings. When done in humility, it builds our humanity, our capacity to include others and to be included by them.

Most of all, of course, it is what Jesus did for us, and with us - and as a Christian, it is His example which I want to follow more than any other.

My song for this week is from one of my favourite Christian band "
Superchick", and it is their song "Cross the Line"

Its message is to reject the status quo, the comfort of what we know; to step over the line into an attitude of mind that says the world can change, and we can be a part of changing it! And as we cross the line, as we take risks driven on by our faith, we take hold of life in all its fullness...


In their words, "Revolutions start when someone crosses the line!"

Enjoy!

(The embedded link above seems to have gone down to see the video follow this link )

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Sin of Honesty


Over the last week there have been a number of Blogs pointing out the culture of secrecy that exists in the Church of England and the Anglican world over sexual orientation.


Colin Coward in the Changing Attitude Blog has been most outspoken, claiming that there are 3 gay Primates in the Anglican Communion and 10-13 gay Bishops in the Church of England!

So the Archbishop's now famous phrase from last week's interview in the Times that "He has no problem with gay bishops' clearly needs another caveat placed alongside celibacy - the caveat that "He has no problem - as long as no-one knows!"

This is clearly a major issue for the CofE and the Anglican Communion. At a meeting of candidates for the current General Synod elections last week, 2 of the candidates openly noted that the Church of England has been ordaining gay priests and consecrating gay bishops for years, and that we need to stop living a lie!

Indeed, when I served on General Synod several years ago, I remember being part of a conversation in which a serving Bishop's name was mentioned as being gay. The reaction was remarkable - there was shocked silence for a moment before one senior churchman (they were both men) for whom this was news, said "He's not gay, is he?" while at the same moment another (who already knew of the Bishop's sexuality) said, "He's not gone public, has he?" Which was the greater crime, I wondered - being gay or being honest?

Nor is this issue limited to men. I also remember meeting a life-long missionary, for an evangelical mission agency, who, throughout her many years ministry in Africa knew she was a lesbian, and indeed had a relationship with a fellow missionary for many years. Everyone thought she was simply a spinster who had never met the 'right man', and it was not until she was in her late 60's and safely retired, that she could be finally honest and open about her sexuality. The sense of liberation on her face, at finally being able to tell people was tangible and powerful.

Is honesty the main issue then? Is it the honesty and openness of Jeffrey John that is the real cause of his awful treatment at the hands of the Church? And when is there going to be a sustained challenge to this way of doing things?

Is it the honesty of Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool that makes them and the Episcopal Church such a focus for disapproval in the Anglican Communion? If they had just kept quiet? If they had just lived a lie? If they had hidden behind a veneer of acceptability? Would everything have been ok?

The answer, of course, is a resounding "No!" If we, as Christ body here on earth are to convince people that God is real, we need to be real. If we want people to find abundant life in Christ, we need to live real lives, not carefully crafted veneers of acceptability.

It was Oliver Cromwell ironically, (the English puritan political leader during the English Civil War) who said "Paint my picture - warts and all". Like it or not, good or bad, he wanted people to see him as he really was.

Until we learn to be a church which is prepared to be an environment where people can be honest and open, we will continue to encourage Christians and Christian leaders to lead fake lives.

And fake lives can only build a fake Church.

And a fake Church does not portray a real God, or a real Gospel, or real salvation - just an hollow veneer which people see though all too easily.










Monday, 27 September 2010

Archbishops empty words



When I wrote my blog on Saturday - I'm not aginst religious people - just religion - I hadn't read the full interview in with the Archbishop of Canterbury which appeared in The Times that day.

Having now read it, I am saddened at yet another expression of the same phenomena that I described that day. Once again the Church of England through the voice of its Archbishop has said "I'm not against homosexual people - just homosexuality".

In his apparently open minded comments on the suitability (or not) of homosexuals to be priests and bishops, he has once again treated their sexuality as optional 'add-on' to life by insisting that while he would have 'no problem' with a celibate gay bishop, he regards the issue of homosexual relationships as 'a particular choice of life'.

Leaving aside the obvious question as to why, if he has no problem with a gay bishop who is celibate, he has prevented the appointment of Jeffrey John as a bishop twice (the most recent being this summer) - there is a deeper issue. That of the forced celibacy of homosexual clergy.

To treat gay clergy in this way dehumanises them. It requires them to take on a burden which most do not feel called to, and to live in a manner of self denial which is unsustainable.

When God created Eve in Genesis 2, the purpose expressed was not that of procreation (as some would have us believe) but of mutual love and companionship. In this story of creation, "No suitable helper could be found" (vs 20) and so God created Eve out of Adam to be 'bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh' - to be the one who completes Adam and brings the wells of human love and fulfilment to a lonely Adam.

This sense of needing to have that special someone who completes us is at the heart of our human desire for mutual love. It is something which is common to all humanity, gay or straight. So to say to a homosexual person that because their attraction is to someone of the same sex, they should set aside this fundamental part of their humanity, is both damaging and wrong. We simply can't split ourselves in two like that and expect everything to be fine.

I witnessed this at first hand in a fellow student at Theological College who simply could not bear this burden imposed by his church - and it ultimately cost him his life. See Benny's Tale - Part 2

The approach which says 'I'm not against homosexual people - just homosexuality' simply does not cut it - ethically, morally, or theologically.

I am reminded of a powerful speech made by an elderly nun at General Synod in 2004. (Yes - good things appear in the most unlikely places sometimes!)

Sister Rosemary CHN, representing Religious Communities, spoke in the debate on Human Sexuality, and her theme was celibacy - something she knew a great deal about. She began by celebrating her vocation to the celibate life...
"I speak in this debate from the perspective of a vowed celibate life in the monastic tradition. For me, this life, freely chosen in response to the call of God is, at the deepest level, a way that brings blessing, joy and fulfilment... I would therefore strongly defend both vowed celibacy and singleness as valued ways of being human, reflecting the love of God and growing into the likeness of Christ"

before letting loose this thundering condemnation of the kind of forced celibacy the Archbishop is demanding for gay and lesbian clergy...


"For those of us under religious vows, who treasure celibacy as call and gift, the idea of forced celibacy is as abhorrent as the idea of forced marriage"
I leave you with her words which expose the bankrupt reality of the Archbishop's words this week.
"Some gay clergy have reluctantly accepted celibacy as an imposed discipline. Some of these, I feel sure, have found that through their struggles they have been given grace... For others, however, misery remains just misery, and they are exposed to the danger of a kind of withering of the heart, which makes them less able to love anybody."
"Christians who are happily married can bear witness to the way in which a partner's love can be both a means of grace and a school of the Lord's service: a channel of God's love to them and through them. Gay Christians in committed relationships say that it is the same for them. When I observe the quality of their lives, and feel warmed and healed by their friendship, I know that it is true."
"A lay member of the Church in which I used to be a curate, when interviewed by a local newspaper about Gene Robinson's consecration, said 'When God calls a man, God calls all of him, including his sexuality'... Is it not more than time for us to open our eyes to what God is doing in our gay brothers and sisters? To find humility to learn from them? To repent of the cruel way the Church has treated them and is treating them, and to join with God in loving and valuing them for all that they are?"
Amen, sister!!
 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

"I'm not against religious people - just religion"

During the recent Pope's visit to the UK, I found myself listening to an radio interview with someone who was protesting against it. The interviewer asked the protester if she was an 'aggressive secularist'.

The protester replied enthusiastically, "Yes! 100% ...!" then thought about her answer a little more and added. "I'm not against religious people - just religion!"

I found myself quite affronted by this .

The protester meant well by it, wanting to reassure the audience that she didn't mean to be aggressive towards religious people, but what came over to me was offensive because it underestimated the place of my Christian faith in my life.

The reality is, that my faith isn't an 'add on' to the rest of my life - something which can be put on or taken off at will to suit the situation. It is an indispensable part of me, right top the core of my being!. I have put my trust in Jesus Christ and committed my life to following him. As a result I believe that I have been 'born again' into a new life which will carry me through to eternity, and my life now is inextricably linked to my faith. It is an indelible part of who I am.

So the comment that this lady was not against religious people - just religion - was actually deeply offensive to me. Me and my religion are inextricably intertwined, and can't be simply separated off like that!

But then I began thinking about where this kind of distinction might come from ...

Because we, as the church, have championed this kind of false distinction. 'Good' Christian people have told women for many years that they are not against women - just women's ministry as priests (or now as bishops). We have told Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Christians that we are not against homosexual people - just homosexuality! We have rolled out the exact same phrase to justify our prejudice, imagining that it will make it acceptable, and failed to see that in doing so we have been trying to separate and devalue a fundamental part of their human identity and humanity.

A homosexual cannot set aside his or her sexuality like taking off coat to suit the situation, just as I cannot set aside my faith in order to become acceptable to others. A woman cannot suddenly cease to be a woman and say "Oh, that's ok then" when someone excludes her from ministry simply because of her gender.

Jesus said "You shall reap what you sow" and how true that is. I may be offended by the suggestion that my faith is an optional add-on to my life, but that is what we (the Church) are still telling people about our their gender or sexuality. So it is perhaps not surprising that we get a taste of our own medicine from time to time.

The most effective counter to this 'aggressive secularist' would, of course, be to stop making that false distinction ourselves - to accept women as equally human as men - to accept sexuality (of whatever orientation) as part of our humanity rather than something which has to be re-directed, controlled by denial, or healed.

I hope that we will get to this point one day, because until we do, we will continue to do what that secularist lady did - to devalue things that are more than what we do or say - they are a part of who we are - to the glory of God our creator and redeemer.

On a lighter note - I love the message of this song and video by Francesca Battistelli, and it fits with the sentiment of this posting. Go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKSQjSdU8VA to watch the video.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Letting the light into our crowded lives


I have just finished cutting back the vines which grow either side of the patio at the vicarage.

Before you write to tell me – yes, I know that this is not the time of year to be pruning vines — but when we returned to the Puddletown at the end of my sabbatical, I discovered that they had grown so much while we were away, that we could no longer see out of the dining room windows.

Normally I train them as they grow, but left un trained and untrimmed they had simply taken over. Growing in all directions, filling every space, I couldn't help seeing a metaphor for our crowded lives.

Left to their own devices, our lives can often fill up with different tasks and responsibilities. The danger is that, unchecked, and untrained, we simply fill our lives over and over again, layer upon layer, until there is no space left. This is often made worse in our churches by the mantra, often repeated, "If you want something done, ask a busy person!"

In John's gospel, Jesus compared us to the branches of a vine and described God as the gardener who prunes the branches so that they might bear fruit. (John 15)

I wonder, however, how willing we are to allow God to prune our busy lives. Too often we have a tendency to want to hold on to the things we do. We are more likely to try to add something new rather than let go of one thing in order to do something else. The result is increasingly pressured and frenetic activity as we try to cover all the bases.

I wonder what would happen if we were to let have God free reign to prune where he wishes, training and directing our lives as he would want.

One thing I am sure of — that our lives would be less crowded and more fruitful as a result!

Having cut back our vines at the vicarage, I can now see out of our windows, and the light from outside now illuminates the inside of our dining room. It feels a lot less claustrophobic in there as the light streams in. I wonder how many of us would find the same if we would allow God to have his way.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Link to Lesley's Blog

Lesley's Blog makes a similar comment on a similar issue to "Don't know, don't care" but in a much more entertaining way!

Don't know, Don't care ...

Following the renewed controversy about whether Jeffrey John could or should be a Bishop this summer, YouGov conducted a random poll asking whether the public at large thought that "the Church of England should or should not allow the appointment of Bishops who are gay".

The results came out in favour of gay Bishops - 39% were in favour, 27% against - but what struck me was the high proportion of people who just didn't care - or in the words of the survey "have no opinion either way".

Almost a third of those questioned (31%) had no opinion either way.

There are 2 possible interpretations of this:

Either they don't care because homosexuality just is not an issue for them - it doesn't provoke a response, positive or negative.

Or the Church of England and probably, by implication, the Christian faith is simply irrelevant in their lives.

Either way, this should be a matter of grave concern for those of us who want to make Jesus Christ known, as it shows how irrelevant the church has become for so many people.

For those for whom sexuality doesn't illicit any response, the way the church gets hot under the collar (usually the dog collar!) over and over again about this one issue must push them more and more to the conclusion that we are nothing to do with them.

But I suspect that the greater proportion of the 'no opinion' group have written the church and the Christian faith off, and see the church as a quaint anachronism, which has nothing to say to them. Our traditional ways of doing things - our patriarchal institutions - our funny clothes and rituals - our liturgical and ecclesiastical language - simply do not make an impression on an increasing proportion of the population.

For those Christians in newer churches, (mainly evangelical or pentecostal in style) this is not news. Their growth in recent years has been due largely to presenting the gospel in a contemporary way, seeking to make it relevant to a new generation. But even here there are problems.

In the 25-39 age group where these newer churches often do well, there were significantly fewer people who expressed no opinion, (27%) but this is the group who were most in favour of gay bishops (52%) which goes against the predominantly conservative approach on sexuality which these churches take.

Nor can the established church take much comfort from the older generation. Even among the over 60's (the only age group which came out against gay Bishops - 25% in favour, 40% against) the 'don't care' vote was the highest of all age groups (34%). This age group is generally regarded as being the most 'religious' (and most traditional) and those of us who are attend church will know that this is the best represented group amongst the majority of our congregations, and yet over a third don't care on this most traditional of issues!

The challenge of this survey is not the issue of gay bishops. It is the challenge which the church faces in presenting the Gospel in a relevant and engaging way. It is the challenge of bringing the love and teaching of Jesus Christ to our nation in the social environment of the 21st Century, rather than the 17th or 19th Century. It is the challenge of living and acting in a way which can speak to people who have been turned off what we do and what we say to the extent that they just don't care.